Every single one of Calvino's works are radically different from one another, and this is made no more aparent here. The three stories, The Cloven Viscount, Baron in The Trees and The Invisible Knight, all differ massively. The Baron in the trees is a tale of a boy who lived upon tree branches for his whole life, The Cloven Viscount relates how a man is cut in two yet his two halves survive, one evil the other good, and The Invisible Knight tells the story of a knight who is non-existant, and defined only by an empty suit of armour. Of course, each story is told in its own way: The Baron in The Trees is narrated by the protagonist's brother, The Invisible Knight is a third person narration, and The Cloven Viscount is told in a style reminiscent of a fairy tale.
The story that stands out the most of the three, is The Baron in The Trees. Cut of from the other two, since it lacks in magic realism, it is a beautifully told tale of love and defiance.
'Our Ancestors' is a collection of three longish short stories - or short novellas - with a medieval, fairy-tale like theme. The three were all written at separate times and can stand alone as stories, having no concrete link with each other, apart from Calvino's writing style. It's a fascinating and original book, and one that can be read for the sake of enjoying the writing, rather than the plot or characters. Calvino writes so fantastically, he is one of the few writers that I can enjoy regardless of whether the plot is interesting or the characters sympathetic.
The central story, 'The Baron in the Trees' is by far the longest, and the title is self-explanatory - a young nobleman decides to spend his life in the treetops. In many ways I found this the least engaging of the stories, although it is interesting, probably becase of its length. My favourite is the first, the 'Cloven Viscount', which is the best paced and plotted. The final story, 'The Non-Existent Knight', has some of the best passages of writing and most interesting characters, but the pacing is odd.
These are stories which can be read on several 'levels' - and I'm sure could be chewed over at great length by scholars of literature or reading groups. The blurb describes them as 'morality tales' - rather like fables - and certainly each story contains some potentially very deep themes. However, they can also be read and enjoyed on a more simple level as good pieces of writing with an Arthurian type setting.
Overall, the book was enjoyable for it's writing and for it's unusual style. However, I didn't find it overall engaging or gripping enough to rate it higher than three stars. Calvino is a great writer and I feel slightly ashamed in not rating it higher - as though it's a reflection of some lack of intellect on my part - but in all honesty I do like a bit more plot and character development. However I would recommend it as worth reading to anyone who likes literary fiction or is interested in studying writing.